You know you’ve done it, too. Felt a niggle during your training. Maybe a bit of a limp after your run. Some specific pain you thought you could run through without being out of the game. So, with big races on the schedule this year, I committed all of those athletic sins.

I ran in a 5K race in early April, feeling some pain in my Achilles in every step during my two-mile warmup. I’d never had an Achilles injury, and knew that they could be pretty bad. So of course I lined up at the start and got ready to run hard.

You’ve already correctly guessed the outcome. The pain worsened, and by the end, it was excruciating. I continued with my brilliant good judgment and didn’t drop out, really wanting that age-group win. To get that win, I paid a big price. I could barely walk when I finished, and rather than being something that a few days off would resolve, it was five weeks later until I ran my first steps.

So what did I do to maintain running fitness? Pool running. To mention it brings eye rolls and the inevitable comment about how boring it can be. Yeah, it’s not as stimulating as running outside where I can enjoy the Parkway, the wildlife, and often see friends. But it sure is effective and can land you back on terra firma with as much running fitness as before your injury. Some elite runners even incorporate it into their routine when they’re NOT injured (gasp!) just so that they can add non-impact mileage. I read that Neeley Spence-Gracey, first American woman at Boston this year, does pool running to increase fitness – when she’s not injured!

The cool thing (I’m not talking about the water) is that you can do hard intervals during every pool workout. It doesn’t require the same hard-easy pattern that we need to follow on land (you’re salivating at the potential PRs dancing around in your head about now). I found some great workouts online from Olympian and running-book author Pete Pfitzinger. The intervals aren’t too long, and doing them throughout the majority of the workout not only keeps you fit, it helps mitigate that boredom. (You need only a short warmup and cooldown, maybe five minutes each.) You can also have your coach modify your workouts for the pool, adding intervals and perceived tempo efforts.

Pool running

If you’re lucky enough to have waterproof headphones, then loan them to me. Kidding (or maybe not). But if I had them, being in the pool is definitely a place where you can use them without compromising your safety (or that of others), as can sometimes happen on land.

One other thing I do to keep myself motivated is to employ visualization. If you’re in a pool with backstroke flags, they’re the finish line of that race you’re doing once you’re healed. Get your finishing kick game on!

Get yourself an “aqua jogging” belt to wear. Using it won’t lessen the benefits of the pool running and sure makes it more manageable.

So next time you push yourself over the edge and onto the injured list, if your particular injury can tolerate it, get in the pool, be patient, and once healed, go get on the podium.